Without a Home by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XXI. "He's a Man"
Mrs. Wheaton, although she had the good taste to ask few questions, was much puzzled over the Jocelyns. Mr. Jocelyn's state of health seemed to her very peculiar, and her shrewd, unprejudiced mind was approaching Roger's conclusion, that he was a little "off." With an insight common to sound, thrifty people, she saw that the outlook for this family was dubious. She believed that the father would become less and less of a reliance, that Mrs. Jocelyn was too delicate to cope with a lower and grimmer phase of poverty, which she feared they could not escape. When alone she often shook her head in foreboding over Belle's brilliant black eyes, being aware from long experience among the poor how dangerous are such attractions, especially when possessed by an impulsive and unbalanced child. She even sighed more deeply and often over Mildred, for she knew well that more truly than any of the house-plants in the window the young girl who cared for them was an exotic that might fade and die in the changed and unfavorable conditions of her present and prospective life. The little children, too, were losing the brown and ruddy hues they had acquired on the Atwood farm, and very naturally chafed over their many and unwonted restrictions.
Nor did the city missionary whom she had called in to attend Mrs. Bute's funeral illumine the Jocelyn problem for the good woman. He was an excellent man, but lamentably deficient in tact, being prone to exhort on the subject of religion in season, and especially out of season, and in much the same way on all occasions. Since the funeral he had called two or three times, and had mildly and rather vaguely harangued Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred. Instead of echoing his pious platitudes with murmurs of assent and approval, they had been very polite, and also very reticent and distant; and Mr. Woolling--that was his name--had said in confidence to Mrs. Wheaton that "they might be good people, but he fearing they were not yet altogether 'in the light.' They seemed a little cold toward the good cause, and were not inclined to talk freely of their spiritual experiences and relations. Probably it was because they were not altogether orthodox in their views."
It would seem that this worthy person had taken literally the promise of his Master, "I will make you fishers of men." for he was quite content to be a fisher. Let us hope that occasionally, as by a miracle, his lenient Master enabled him to catch some well-disposed sinner; but as a rule his mannerism, his set phrases, his utter lack of magnetism and appreciation of the various shades of character with which he was dealing, repelled even those who respected his motive and mission. Sensitive, sad-hearted women like Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred could no more open their hearts to him than to a benevolent and impersonal board of trustees sitting around a green baize table. That detestable class, however, who thrive on opening their hearts and dilating on their spiritual experiences, could talk to him, as he would say, in a "most edifying and godly manner," and through him, in consequence, reap all the pecuniary advantages within his power to bestow.
It is not the blatant and plausible poor who suffer, but those who hide their poverty and will starve rather than trade on their faith; and too often Christian and charitable organizations prove they are not the "children of this world" by employing agents so lacking in fitness for the work that a commercial firm, following a like policy, would soon compass its own failure. The Church deserves slight progress if it fails to send its best and most gifted men and women among the poor and vicious. Mr. Woolling was a sincere well-meaning man, but he no more knew how to catch men with a Christ-like magnetism and guile than how to render one of Beethoven's symphonies; and he was so constituted that he could never learn. It was an open question whether he did not do more harm than good; and those who employed him might and ought to have known the fact.
Fortunately for the Jocelyns, there were other workers in that part of the vineyard, and Mrs. Wheaton had said to herself more than once, "Ven my young lady comes 'ome she'll git 'old of these 'ere people and make things better for 'em." One day, about the middle of September, there was a light knock at the door of the large living-room that had been made so inviting. Mildred opened it and admitted a young woman, who appeared not very much older than herself, and who she saw at a glance was of her own class in respect to refinement and cultivation. Although entire strangers, the eyes of the two girls met in woman's intuitive recognition.
"This is Miss Jocelyn, I think," said the visitor in an accent that to the poor girl sounded like her native tongue, so long unheard.
"You are correct," replied Mildred, with exploring eyes and a quiet and distant manner. "Will you please be seated," she added after a moment, as the young lady evidently wished to enter.
It was in the afternoon, and the room had its usual pretty order at that hour. Fred and Minnie were seated by Mrs. Jocelyn, who was giving them their daily lesson from an illustrated primer; and they, with their mother, turned questioning eyes on the unexpected guest, who won their good-will almost instantly by a sunshiny smile. Then turning to Mildred she began, with a quiet, well-bred ease which made her visit seem perfectly natural, "We are now strangers, but I trust we shall not remain such very long. Indeed, I am already sure that you can help me very much." (This asking help instead of offering it was certainly adroit policy.) "I am a Christian worker in this district. My name is Alice Wetheridge. I am well acquainted with Mrs. Wheaton, and the little she has told me about you has made me wish to know you well; and I trust you will meet me with the spirit in which I come--that of honest friendliness and respect. I shall be just as frank with you as you wish, and I know you have just as much right to your feelings and views as I have to mine. It is our plan of work to co-work cordially, asking each one to choose her own place and kind of effort. I have been around among some of my families in this house, and, if you will permit me to say it, I have seen your influence, and I think it is most Christian and womanly. You can scarcely blame me, then, if I hope to find in you a congenial fellow-worker."
These remarks contained no hint of poverty or inferiority, and might have been made to Mildred in her old home. The sweet, low voice in which they were spoken was soothing and winning, while her visitor's gaze was direct and sincere. Mildred smiled with a little answering friendliness as she said, "Please do not expect much from me. I fear I shall disappoint you."
"I shall not expect anything more than your own feelings prompt and your own conscience can warrant. I and some friends have classes at a mission chapel not far from here, and all I ask at first is that you and Mrs. Jocelyn attend service at the chapel and see how you like us and how you like our minister."
"Is--is his name Mr. Woolling?" faltered Mildred.
A slight, evanescent smile flitted across the visitor's face. "No," she said, "that is not his name. Our minister has just returned from Europe, where he has taken a well-deserved vacation. I, too, have only come in town within the last few days, otherwise I do not think you would have escaped us so long," she concluded, with a bright smile, but after a moment she added earnestly, "Please do not think that we shall try to force upon you associations that may not be pleasant. We only ask that you come and judge for yourselves."
"What you ask is certainly reasonable," said Mildred thoughtfully, and with an inquiring glance at her mother.
"I agree with you, Millie," her mother added with gentle emphasis, for she had been observing their visitor closely; "and I think we both appreciate Miss Wetheridge's motive in calling upon us, and can respond in like spirit."
"I thank you," was the cordial reply. "On this card is written my address and where to find our chapel, the hours of service, etc. Please ask for me next Sabbath afternoon, and I will sit you, so you won't feel strange, you know. After the service is over we will remain a few moments, and I will introduce you to our minister. As I said at first, if you don't like us or our ways you must not feel in the least trammelled. However that may be, I trust you will let me come and see you sometimes. It was my duty to call upon you because you were in my district; but now it will be a pleasure to which I hope you will let me look forward."
"You will be welcome," said Mildred smilingly. "I can at least promise so much."
Miss Wetheridge had slipped off her glove while talking, and in parting she gave a warm, friendly palm to those she wished to win. She had intended only a smiling leave-taking of the children, but they looked so pretty, and were regarding her with such an expression of shy, pleased interest, that she acted on her impulse and kissed them both. "I don't often meet such kissable children," she said, with a bright flush, "and I couldn't resist the temptation."
The room seemed lighter the rest of the day for her visit. If she had kissed the children out of policy Mrs. Jocelyn would have been resentfully aware of the fact; but they were "kissable" children, and no one knew it better than the fond mother, who was won completely by the spontaneity of the act.
"Millie, I think I'd go to her church, even if Mr. Woolling were the minister," she said, with her sweet laugh.
"Soft-hearted little mother!" cried Mildred gayly; "if people only knew it, you have one very vulnerable side. That was a master-stroke on the part of Miss Wetheridge."
"She didn't mean it as such, and if some good people had kissed the children I'd have washed their faces as soon as they had gone. The visit has done you good, too, Millie."
"Well, I admit it has. It was nice to see and hear one of our own people, and to feel that we were not separated by an impassable gulf. To tell the truth, I feel the need of something outside of this old house. I am beginning to mope and brood. I fear it will be some time before the way opens back to our former life, and one grows sickly if one lives too long in the shade. I could work with such a girl as that, for she wouldn't humiliate me. See, her card shows that she lives on Fifth Avenue. If she can work in a mission chapel, I can, especially since she is willing to touch me with her glove off," she concluded, with a significant smile.
As the evening grew shadowy Mildred took the children out for their walk, and, prompted by considerable curiosity, she led the way to Fifth Avenue, and passed the door on which was inscribed the number printed on Miss Wetheridge's card. The mansion was as stately and gave as much evidence of wealth as Mrs. Arnold's home. At this moment a handsome carriage drew up to the sidewalk, and Mildred, turning, blushed vividly as she met the eyes of her new acquaintance, who, accompanied by a fashionably-attired young man, had evidently been out to drive. Mildred felt that she had no right to claim recognition, for a young woman making mission calls in her "district" and the same young lady on Fifth Avenue with her finance, very probably, might be, and often are, two very distinct persons. The girl was about to pass on with downcast eyes and a hot face, feeling that her curiosity had been well punished. But she had not taken three steps before a pleasant voice said at her side, "Miss Jocelyn, what have I done that you won't speak to me? This is my home, and I hope you will come and see me some time."
Mildred looked at the speaker searchingly for a moment, and then said, in a low tone and with tearful eyes, "May you never exchange a home like this, Miss Wetheridge, for one like mine."
"Should it be my fortune to do so--and why may it not?--I hope I may accept of my lot with your courage, Miss Jocelyn, and give to my humbler home the same impress of womanly refinement that you have imparted to yours. Believe me, I respected you and your mother thoroughly the moment I crossed your threshold."
"I will do whatever you wish me to do," was her relevant, although seemingly irrelevant, reply.
"That's a very big promise," said Miss Wetheridge vivaciously; "we will shake hands to bind the compact," and her attendant raised his hat as politely as he would to any of his companion's friends.
Mildred went home with the feeling that the leaden monotony of her life was broken. The hand of genuine Christian sympathy, not charity or patronage, had been reached across the chasm of her poverty, and by it she justly hoped that she might be led into new relations that would bring light and color into her shadowed experience.
With her mother and Belle she went to the chapel on the following Sunday afternoon, and found her new friend on the watch for them. The building was plain but substantial, and the audience-room large and cheerful looking. Mr. Woolling was, in truth, not the type of the tall, rugged-featured man who sat on the platform pulpit, and Mildred, at first, was not prepossessed in his favor, but as he rose and began to speak she felt the magnetism of a large heart and brain; and when he began to preach she found herself yielding to the power of manly Christian thought, expressed in honest Saxon words devoid of any trace of affectation, scholasticism, and set phraseology. He spoke as any sensible, practical man would speak concerning a subject in which he believed thoroughly and was deeply interested, and he never once gave the impression that he was "delivering a sermon" which was foreordained to be delivered at that hour. It was a message rather than a sermon, a sincere effort to make the people understand just what God wished them to know concerning the truth under consideration, and especially what they were to do in view of it. The young girl soon reached the conclusion that the religion taught in this chapel was not something fashioned to suit the world, but a controlling principle that brought the rich and poor together in their obedience to Him whose perfect life will ever be the law of the Christian Church. The attention of even mercurial Belle was obtained and held, and at the close of the address she whispered, "Millie, that man talks right to one, and not fifty miles over your head. I'll come here every Sunday if you will."
After the benediction the Rev. Mr. Wentworth came down from the pulpit--not in a bustling, favor-currying style, but with a grave, kindly manner--to speak to those who wished to see him. When he at last reached Mildred, she felt him looking at her in a way that proved he was not scattering his friendly words as a handful of coin is thrown promiscuously to the poor. He was giving thought to her character and need; he was exercising his invaluable but lamentably rare gift of tact in judging how he should address these "new people" of whom Miss Wetheridge had spoken. His words were few and simple, but he made Mrs. Jocelyn and Mildred feel that his interest in them was not official, but genuine, Christian, and appreciative. Belle very naturally shrank into the background. Her acquaintance with clergymen was not extensive, nor would it, I fear, ever have been increased by any efforts of her own; therefore it was with some trepidation that she saw Mr. Wentworth giving her an occasional side glance while talking to her mother. She was about to bow very formally when introduced, but a smile broke over the man's rugged features like a glow of sunshine, as he held out his hand and said, "Miss Belle, I know you and I would be good friends if we had a chance."
The girl's impulsive nature responded as if touched by an electric spark, and with her usual directness the words in her mind were spoken. "I like you already," she said.
"The liking is mutual then," was Mr. Wentworth's laughing reply; "I'm coming to see you."
"But, sir," stammered the honest child, "I'm not good like my sister."
The clergyman now laughed heartily. "All the more reason I should come," he said.
"Well, then, please come in the evening, for I wouldn't miss your visit for the world."
"I certainly shall," and he named an evening early in the week; "and now," he resumed, "my friend Miss Wetheridge here has informed me of the conditions on which you have visited our chapel. We propose to carry them out in good faith, and not put any constraint upon you beyond a cordial invitation to cast your lot with us. It's a great thing to have a church home. You need not feel that you must decide at once, but come again and again, and perhaps by and by you will have a home feeling here."
"I'm coming whether the rest do or not," Belle remarked emphatically, and Mr. Wentworth gave her a humorous look which completed the conquest of her heart.
"Miss Wetheridge knows that my decision was already made," said Mildred quietly, with an intelligent glance toward her friend; "and if there is any very, very simple work that I can do, I shall feel it a privilege to do the best I can."
She never forgot his responsive look of honest friendliness as he answered, "The simplest work you do in that spirit will be blessed. Miss Wetheridge, I hope you will soon find some more people like Mrs. Jocelyn and her daughters. Good-by now for a short time," and a moment later Mildred saw him talking just as kindly, but differently, to a very shabby-looking man.
Mr. Wentworth was also a "fisher of men," but he fished intelligently, and caught them.
Belle could hardly wait until she was in the street before exclaiming, "He isn't a bit like our old minister. Why--why--he's a man."